In yet another big upset of the ICC World Cup 2023, The Netherlands literally trounced high flying South Africa in a one-sided clash in Dharamsala on October 17.
The share of the credit for the turn around is being attributed no less to team coach Ryan Cook. After the initial turbulence led by losses, Ryan steadied the Dutch ship and started navigating rough waters with considerable success.
They gave Pakistan a run for their money, only losing two ODIs by 17 and nine runs. Then they defeated Zimbabwe and South Africa in the ICC T20 World Cup in Australia. The Dutch followed it with an incredible run in the ODI World Cup qualifiers, the highlight being the tied match against West Indies that they won in the super over.
Not many people know it is South African cricketing great Gary Kirsten who holds the key to Ryan’s success. It was his thoughts that Ryan experimented with on the ground and changed the tactics to make the team a winning cohort.
For Cook, it all started in 2013, when he travelled to India as an assistant coach of the South Africa U-19 team. He wrote to Kirsten, trying to understand the conditions in India. Kristen wrote back to him. In a big email he explained all the venues, and conditions beautifully. There was a very minute detail in it. Gary was very specific about why the players should be put first. The most interesting thing that he wrote was that cricket was a team sport and one needed the brilliance of all 11 to win a game. A couple of good performances should not be good enough.
Cook took on board the inputs given by a former Proteas superstar and India’s World Cup-winning coach in Kirsten.
“I worked with him for a few months in Cape Town at his cricket academy. It was a great learning experience. I understood the importance of mental health,” he said.“Ahead of the ODI World Cup qualifier in Zimbabwe, we had a mental and cultural camp in Cape Town. Every single person on the squad was asked to speak up about their aspirations. What they want to see in the team.”
When asked what made the Netherlands team believe in themselves, Cook recalled the horrendous experience of the first ODI in charge against England. “They were playing book cricket. Phil Salt, Dawid Malan and Jos Buttler scored centuries but the brightest part was that our shoulders were not down. We knew we could only learn from that game,” he said.
While the Netherlands are obviously short on top-flight cricket experience, they are rich in talent. Players like Edwards, Logan Van Beek, and Bas de Leede have shown that there is an abundance of talent, and many of them ply their trade in English league cricket as well. Several Dutch players like Paul van Meekeren have also played in T20 leagues.
The Dutch arrived in India two weeks before the start of the tournament. They played three practice matches against Karnataka and they didn’t go well. Their official warm-up games against India and Australia were also washed out. Their campaign then started with two defeats.
But on Tuesday, they stunned the Proteas with clinical efficiency, tapping into all the attributes that Cook spoke about.
The only aim for Cook from this World Cup was that he wanted his team to rub shoulders with the best and set a lofty ambition to win three or four matches. “People often refer to us as cricket minions. We see ourselves as a cricketing nation that plays in a good style. We compete against the best teams in the world. We’ll be putting everything in to get those three or four victories in our bag,” he said.